These birds steal hair from living mammals to build their nests.

Nest building is an important activity for birds. It is in this small habitat that they will lay their eggs and incubate them, protecting them from external conditions and possible predators. In other words, the structure must be shaped ingeniously, in the right place, and with the right materials.

Branches, grasses, mosses, leaves, feathers and even hair, species will not hesitate to diversify their resources to build their shelter. Until sometimes he adopts behavior that is as amazing as it is reckless. This is evidenced by a new study published in late July in the journal Ecology.

Researchers have previously speculated that the birds that used the wool in their nests collected it from the carcasses of dead animals or found it accidentally in the environment. This paper points out that this is not always the case: some species look for them directly at the source, on live animals.

The Tale of the Tit and the Raccoon

The idea for this study was born in the minds of the researchers when they watched the bird in full action in 2020. While counting in the park, Professor Jeffrey Brown of the University of Illinois caught a crested tit by surprise (beolofus bicolor) land on the raccoon and start plucking hair with your beak.

It was a live raccoon with claws and teeth. And he didn’t seem to care because he didn’t even wake up“, – explained in a press release Professor Brown, co-author of the study. Intrigued, the scientist and his colleagues began research to learn more about this behavior.

They only highlighted a few observations in the scientific literature. Such interactions are described in only nine studies, including one published in 1946. Youtube, on the other hand, was much richer, hosting dozens of videos of different birds using the fur of different sleeping or awake mammals.

The team had to face the facts: they called this behavior kleptotrichia (from Greek. klepto means “fly” and tricho meaning “hair”) is more common than it seems. One of the videos (above) shows, for example, how a tit plucks a raccoon’s fur in the middle of a meal. Even when he drives it away with one hand, the thief returns to continue his work.

Another scene (below) shows a bird doing the same to a dormant dog. Another, even more surprising, shows a man showing interest in a woman’s curly hair. The vast majority of sightings filmed were of the crested chickadee, but two other species belonging to the same family Paridesappeared there too.

This study is the first to document so many examples kleptotrichia in one report. “There are about nine times more mentions of this phenomenon on Youtube than in the scientific literature. And this is thanks to ornithologists and nature lovers around the world.“, welcomed Mark Hauber, co-author of the report at the microphone CBC Radio.

Why take the risk?

The cases reviewed by the scientists also showed that many birds collect fur from the environment. In this connection, the question arises: why do birds risk attacking live animals? According to Mark Hauber, this suggests that the benefits of adding wool to the nest outweigh the dangers to the bird.

There is clearly an advantage to this behavior, otherwise it would not have evolved.“, confirmed live science, Henry Pollock, another co-author of the study. Hair is a very effective material for insulating nests. The use of hair freshly taken from mammals can add additional properties, such as repelling would-be predators.

There is a native species called the crested flycatcher which, like the chickadee, nests in cavities and places abandoned snake skins in its nest, probably to deter predators.“, – reasoned Rev. Brown. – Tufts of fresh fur can also help in the fight against parasites that can threaten the survival of the cubs.

More research is needed to elucidate the exact reasons for this behavior. “There are probably fifteen more [raisons] alternatives that I didn’t think of and that we didn’t mention in the article”recognized Professor Hauber, hoping that this work will serve as a starting point for those who would like to show interest in this issue.

Read also:

⋙ Like Beethoven or Kendrick Lamar, mockingbirds are great composers.

⋙ Tits sort food by watching their relatives.

⋙ Magnificent bird of paradise, the bird with the blackest plumage in the world

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